Cambria Citizen of the Year: Marcelle Bakula

ktanner@thetribunenews.comJanuary 17, 2013 

Found an injured pelican? Need a silent auction organized? Want help in raising money to help children and teens? Have a beautiful piece of undeveloped land that needs to be preserved forever?

Many Cambrians and others know that, under those and similar circumstances, the answer is the same: Call Marcelle Bakula, who was honored Tuesday, Jan. 15, as the town’s 2012 Citizen of the Year.

Cambria Chamber of Commerce representatives sometimes have a hard time selecting the annual honorees, because so many local people are active in helping the community, its environment and its residents.

This year’s Cambria Chamber of Commerce selection seemed obvious, given the fistful of nomination letters for Bakula. All the accolades were effusive for the tireless volunteer affectionately described as “bossy.”

“She brought a tireless and shining spirit, as well as great organizing skills” to fundraising toward the community’s purchase of what was then East West Ranch, according to Jo Ellen Butler, executive director of Friends of the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve (FFRP).

Bakula’s support for that cause has never wavered, and she’s still a force to reckon with for FFRP’s annual Wildflower Show and Kitchen Tour.

She “helped organize and implement our annual art auctions since the beginning 24 years ago,” wrote Wayne Attoe, president of Greenspace — The Cambria Land Trust.

Bakula is considered Cambria’s auction queen, a super organizer who can flawlessly pull one of those complex fundraising events together.

She also works with wildlife, especially birds. In the High Mountain Condor Lookout program, she helps train interns, mans the lookout once a month, takes informational displays on the road for special events and is “the driving force behind our fundraising and volunteer-training efforts,” according to www.condorlookout.org.

Local birds benefit, too. “She is untiring,” wrote Dave Klinzman, president of Pacific Wildlife Care (PWC). “When something needs to happen …Marcelle is a resource that can be counted on.”
Bakula serves on the nonprofit’s board, is membership chairwoman, volunteers at PWC’s Rehabilitation Center in Morro Bay, is an emergency “transporter” for wildlife cases and organizes the annual “Windows into Wildlife” fundraisers.

After all, she said Tuesday night, with wonder in her voice, “how many people can say they’ve held a bald eagle?”

Art Chapman has worked with Bakula annually “since 2003 putting on the Country Coast Classic Bike Ride … (which) raises $25,000 annually for the Cambria Teen and Recreation Center … I see her as our CEO, the person we depend upon to organize all of the details and recruit a cadre of loyal volunteers to help during the ride. She is the glue that keeps us together and motivated to continue year after year.”

She’s also donated countless hours toward the Cambria Teen Center, Cambria Historical Society, skate park, Bronco Boosters and other causes she holds dear.

Bakula noted that “this is such a great community, and it’s a great honor to join the ranks of such civic-minded people” as the previous honorees.

“I’m just the minutia person, the task person and the bossy lady,” Bakula said with a laugh. 
The Los Angeles native came to Cambria in 1980 after graduating from college and working in recreation administration for the city of Morro Bay. Bakula earned teaching and special education credentials from Cal Poly, and taught for a year at Cambria Grammar School before going to Paso Robles.

Once her own two sons, Alex and Eric, were grown, she sought ways to help. And did she ever!
For others who want to donate time, but haven’t figured out how or where, she advises, “Just start doing things, trying it out. Not every organization is a good fit for everyone … just find something that compels you in a heartstrings sort of way. There are so many needs. Just find a niche where you fit and know you’re helping, which makes you want to stay.”

Bakula’s been involved her entire life. “When I was 5, I wanted to be a firefighter, and I think I would have been a good one. I’m always running toward what needs to be done,” and at the age of 8 or 10, was “marching for fair housing, fair rents. I wanted to have a voice. I wanted to help.”

On those early marches, she said during remarks after receiving her honor, she learned, “you go out with thousands of other people and get stuff done … joining together with other people, you can get so much done. I’m not afraid to ask other people to help me. It takes a lot of people.”

She didn’t do what she’s done for the recognition, she added — you do it “because you like what you do.”

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